Getting to Know...Mashona Washington
She used to be referred to as Malivai's little sister. Now, it's the other way around. In fact, the 28-year-old Washington has been turning heads all summer since qualifying at Wimbledon and reaching the second round.
At her next event at Stanford, she challenged world No.4 Lindsay Davenport to three sets in her first Tier II quarterfinal. She qualified at Montreal, a Tier I event, a week later and reached the second round.
Some may call her a late bloomer, but the youngest sibling of the Washington tennis family says she still feels like a kid out there.
In a time when women's tennis is flooded with teen phenoms, Washington has proved that she can keep up with and in fact outlast the youngsters. As a wildcard last week at New Haven, she stunned Wimbledon champion and Russian sensation Maria Sharapova, 63 26 62, to reach another quarterfinal.
In New Haven, WTATour.com had a chance to talk to Mashona.
You have a well-known family history in tennis. What was your first memory of tennis?
I remember my brothers and sisters used to travel all the time. Actually, I never really liked going to the court. My dad always used to bring me because my older brothers and sisters played, but I didn't really have an interest. I remember my brothers and sisters traveling to all these places and tournaments, and I said, "Dad, I want to go." And he said the only way I could go is if I started playing tennis. So ever since then (age 5), I started playing tennis because I knew I could travel. I started training and practicing every day and started competing (at around 9). It was kind of a family thing. I got better and enjoyed playing and winning. And that goes for today. I always say that as long as I enjoy traveling and winning and improving and being in shape, then I'll keep playing.
Can you tell us about growing up in Michigan? When did you move to Houston?
I lived in Michigan until about 16. I was like a regular kid. Everyone, people at church and in school, knew that we played tennis and we were winning tournaments, so we would be in the local papers. I went to high school like everyone else, but after school I had to go to practice, so I really didn't get to hang out with my friends. It was all practice. I moved to Delray Beach, Florida, in my sophomore year (15 years old) because I was getting more serious. I did that for a few years and then I moved to Houston in 1997, a few years after I graduated from Lake Worth Christian School.
You always credit your coach, Lillian Rios, for your success. How long have you been working together and what makes your relationship so successful? What changes if any has she made in your tactics/game/mental preparation?
We've been working together since 2001. She's very easygoing. If I lose a match, you'll never see her yell at me or go crazy. She keeps things very simple, when she's explaining things and tries to make it easy. That's what works for me. She's hasn't changed things too much technically. She just added a lot of belief, not too many fundamental things, maybe strategic changes.
You had a tremendous hardcourt season. What are your goals for the rest of your year/career?
I don't really have any goals for this year because last year wasn't a great year, so anything this year would be above-and-beyond what I did last year. I think that I will have a really solid end of the year. As for career, of course I'd like to win some tournaments, Grand Slams, be No.1. Those are some dreams and goals. I don't like to set too many goals or a lot of unattainable goals because I think you put too much pressure on yourself. I believe that if I train as hard as I can and I'm fit and healthy, the rest will take care of itself.
What other interests do you have besides tennis? What do you think you would be doing if you weren't playing tennis?
I thought about going back to school. I'm pretty interested in real estate. My brother has gotten me interested in that. I'll probably get involved with his foundation (The Malivai Washington Kids Foundation) and I'm very interested in helping out with that. He's done great things with it. I'll need a job after tennis, so I'm sure he'll help me get a job. It used to be the Boys and Girls Club. The kids can go there and take lessons, kind of getting them off the streets with after-school programs.
As a child, what did you like doing besides playing tennis?
I never played any other sports. It's always been tennis, but I had interests in other sports. I loved all kinds of sports. I loved competition. I played the clarinet for a couple of years from sixth to 10th grade. (11 – 15 years old).
Who did you look up to growing up, tennis/non-tennis?
My parents. My mom is such a strong individual, such an amazing woman. She's been the backbone of all our success. She's always been there. She got us to practice, picked us up, cooked, cleaned, everything. She's nothing short of amazing. My dad is the driving force, so he put it all together. He's the one who put my first racquet in my hand. They were definitely a good combination.
What charitable causes are you involved in?
My brother's foundation, The Malivai Washington Kids Foundation.
Now, some fun facts about you… Last movie that you saw?
The Exorcist. I saw it two days ago. It wasn't as freaky as I thought it would be. It was OK. I heard that it was going to be really scary, but it wasn't.
What's in your CD player at the moment?
A mixed CD with hip-hop, R&B. The last one I bought was Mariah Carey's Greatest Hits.
One thing you always pack with you?
Lots of underwear. I like to have a lot of clean underwear.